In 2007, I wrote the cover story for the premiere edition of Content, a magazine produced by the Custom Publishing Council, surveying the state of the industry. Eight years isn’t that long ago culturally — both “Mad Men” and the iPhone had made their debuts — but this sentence I used to sum up the disruption that was clearly on the content horizon seems as dated as the BlackBerry “device” you were probably using then: “It won’t be long before consumers are using cell phones to scan a barcode that will instantly yield both a recipe for the product and a coupon.”
Everybody already knew embedding a product in the consumer’s consciousness was not your father’s “Dinah 'Chevy' Shore Show" anymore, of course. It was already heading toward the branded segment that aired this week on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” where Cousin Sal puts willing passersby in “ridiculous, annoying” situations — clothespins appended to one’s nose and ears, for example — just to walk away with a free pair of Sanuk shoes.
But “native” had not yet invaded the marketing lexicon in 2007 — indeed, advertorials were not only prominently labeled as an ADVERTISMENT but also sported horsey typefaces meant to actually distinguish the ad copy from the publication’s editorial. (Many still may be, but readers — even sophisticated ones — are increasingly fooled as standards have lapsed, no?)
A lot has indeed changed. The Custom Publishing Council became the Custom Content Council in 2009 and is now simply The Content Council, reflecting the industry’s stampede into digital communications — and, perhaps, consumers’ increasing disinterest in where information come from as long as it telling them something they deem useful. Meanwhile, you can’t hold Content magazine in your hands any more unless you print it out yourself.
So is custom publishing — the print product — dead? I put the question to Mike Winkleman, who is president and chief creative officer of Leverage Media, a content marketing firm, and was chairman of the Custom Publishing Council back when I wrote the story.
Absolutely not, he told me, while admitting that he’s a wizened print guy with skin in the game: a specialty in custom publications for law firms, trade associations and other professionals. But, in pitches and in practice, Winkleman says he senses a resurgent demand for long-form, paper-bound editorial even as “snackable” snippets are increasingly in vogue, as are Web-based white papers, native ads, targeted emails, as are surveys, as are blogs, tweets, posts on Facebook and Instagrams and even — talk about ephemeral image-making — Snaps and Periscopes.
In fact, custom content is an ever-expanding grab bag — certainly still including advertorials, custom publications and books — and the challenge is to appropriately repurpose the brand story over as many channels as make strategic and financial sense.
One major difference from the past is the ability to measure results more accurately. Nobody today wants to hear about airy-fairy pass-along rates or even the number of blow-in cards that have been filled in. “They want to know how many eyeballs?” says Winkleman. “And how many page views? And how much time is spent? And where did they go? And how do we know this content works? And why did it work?”
How to achieve this goal? “There no clear models,” said Winkleman. There are only ad-hoc solutions to specific problems — some novel, some stepping out on well-trod paths, some both.
Take that Sanuk spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which set out to reach a broader audience than the surf crowd in Southern California it already owns, according to Eric Springer, chief creative officer of Ignited, the agency that created the promotion. “The integration with ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ not only allowed the brand to reach their core audience in the popular late-night time slot,” but, with the content on YouTube and distributed through social channels, “to live beyond the initial :90 of on-air exposure,” maximizing the brand's investment, Springer noted.
And a little traditional PR helps, too.
Like the inviting Nike and GoPro campaigns, I’d like this new iteration of Content Marketing Insider to be participatory. As fast as things are moving, I trust we’re all playing catch-up to some degree. So let’s trade ideas. In the comments section below. In links to a great branded storytelling campaign you admire (even though you didn’t execute it or pay for it to be executed). Or tell me what you’re up to in an email.
See you next week, as they used to say.